There are many ways to learn about local history, including the many cities, villages and towns that make up Kalamazoo County. A fun way is to find and read the various historical markers found on buildings, in parks, on churches, in cemeteries and even on homes across the county. While these markers come in different shapes and sizes, the most prevalent ones are those green Michigan Historical Markers that highlight state history. This marker program began in 1955 and offers a map of the historical sites at dnr.state.mi.us/HistoricalMarkers. A little closer to home, here are five of my favorite markers or memorials:
Kalamazoo Street Signs
Delineating the boundaries of a former reservation
Technically these would not be considered historical markers, but they certainly qualify as offering historical information about the area. There are 25 street signs that not only give the name of the street but have the emblem of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, indicating the boundary of the reservation given to them as a result of the Treaty of Chicago of 1821. The land amounted to nine square miles, comprising a large part of what is now the city of Kalamazoo. The U.S. government broke the treaty in 1827, forcing the band to leave. They eventually moved to the Gun Lake area. These signs, installed in 2019, were a project of the Kalamazoo Reservation Education Committee.
25th Michigan Volunteer Infantry
Mounted on a boulder and found on Egleston Avenue just east of Race Street, this marker notes the site where the 25th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, made up primarily of Kalamazoo County men, camped and drilled in September 1862, before traveling to Kentucky to fight in the Civil War. Now part of the Edison neighborhood, this area during that time was part of the National Driving Park, which held horse races and a variety of fairs across its 64 acres. The infantry unit, originally made up of more than 800 soldiers, saw action in Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia until it was mustered out in June 1865. It held annual reunions and in October 1923 dedicated the original bronze marker, which has been replaced twice. While hard to make out in the photo above, the inscription on the marker is more legible when viewing in person.
Southeast corner of South Park Street and Crosstown Parkway
Drivers pass this marker every day, but if they were to stop, they could learn about a vegetable once very popular here: celery. It is not known who introduced the first celery to the area, but what is known is that by the end of the 19th century hundreds of growers, many of them Dutch, took advantage of the soil found on the north and south sides of Kalamazoo and in the communities of Comstock and Portage to grow a white and yellow type of celery popular for eating and cooking and as an ingredient in patent medicine and cereal. When this marker was installed in 1958, the industry was waning in this area, with many of the growers changing to producing bedding plants.
Southeast corner of Portage Street and East Michigan Avenue
Most of the facts on this marker are correct, but the exceptions include the date of construction of the building and the location of the Peninsula Restaurant (not to be confused with the Olde Peninsula Brewpub which was located on this site from 1996–2021). The building actually is older than the marker indicates and has a much more interesting history. Completed in 1855 and named for Bissel Humphrey, a local resident, this building has housed many businesses, institutions and organizations over the years, including an armory where many Civil War recruits drilled. The local YWCA found a home here when it organized in 1885. The marker is correct that the Folz clothing store, Parsons Business School and the Kalamazoo Stove Co. store were once located here. For some reason, the building’s name was changed to the Peninsula Building in 1961, even though the namesake restaurant was located on the other side of the street.
Kalamazoo School Case
Northwest corner of South Westnedge Avenue and West Vine Street
When Kalamazoo Public Schools was established in 1833, education consisted of what is now grades one through eight. Over the next 25 years, the state of Michigan allowed communities to organize union school districts and tax property owners for primary grades and, by 1859, even high schools. The KPS district purchased land at what was then South West Street and West Vine in 1857, opening the Union School two years later. By 1871, three residents filed suit, claiming that they should not have to pay taxes for secondary education. Three years later both the Circuit Court and the Michigan Supreme Court disagreed, upholding public taxation for financing this level of education. The State Bar has added this case to its list of Michigan Legal Milestones.